Williams College

Location: Williamstown, Massachusetts
Website: http://www.williams.edu
Type: Private
Federal Circuit: 1st Circuit

Speech Code Rating

Williams College has been given the speech code rating Red. A red light university has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. Read more here.

  • Williams College: Suppression of Freedom of Association by Nondiscrimination Policy

    December 15, 2000

    FIRE successfully defeated a Williams College proposal that denied students’ right to free association by requiring clubs adopt non-discrimination language. Williams College only mentioned the category of sexual orientation—not, for example, the category of religion or race—and justified this imposition by asserting, without any specific citations, that Williams’ actions in this regard were “completely dictated by the Federal Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights guidelines for non-discrimination.”

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Red Light Policies

  • Bias Incident Reporting: Questions about Bias and Bias Reporting

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Bias and Hate Speech
    Last updated: September 30, 2015

    Bias Incident – Bias incidents are acts of conduct, speech, or expression that target individuals and groups based on race, religion, ethnic/national origin, gender, gender identity/expression, age, ability, or sexual orientation. Bias-related incidents, while abhorrent and intolerable, do not meet the necessary elements required to prove a crime. However, bias-related incidents do require the active participation of a community committed to fundamental human dignity and equality to successfully address.

    Some examples of bias incidents include:

    • Telling jokes based on a stereotype
    • Name-calling
    • Stereotyping
    • Offensive graffiti or images/drawing
    • Avoiding or excluding others
    • Posting or commenting on social media related to someone’s identity in a bias matter
    • Calling someone the r-word, n-word, f-word… (in person, in writing, on social media, white boards, etc.)
    • Using the phrase ‘no homo’
    • Calling a person or a behavior ‘gay’ as an insult
    • Making jokes or using stereotypes when talking about someone
    • Saying that all ______ [people of a certain group or identity] are _____ [stereotyping]
    • Using a racial, ethnic, or other slur to identify someone
    • Making a joke about someone being deaf or hard of hearing, or blind, etc.
    • Imitating someone with any kind of disability, or imitating someone’s cultural norm or practice
    • Making comments on social media about someone’s disability, ethnicity, race, national origin, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, religion, or political affiliations/beliefs
    • Writing on a white board about someone’s disability, ethnicity, national origin, race, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, religion, or political affiliations/beliefs
    • Displaying a sign that is color-coded pink for girls and blue for boys
    • Telling someone that they have to wear pants because they are male and a skirt because they are female [or other specific limitations and expectations]
    • Drawing faith symbols on someone’s door not from the same belief, or drawing or writing over someone’s faith symbols
    • Taking down someone else’s holiday decoration because you do not believe in that faith
    • Drawing or creating pictures that imitate, stereotype, or belittle/ridicule someone because of their gender, gender expression, race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, faith, or political affiliation

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Yellow Light Policies
  • Computing Ethics and Responsibilities

    Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies
    Last updated: September 30, 2015

    Williams College has written standards of conduct that seek to prohibit annoyance and harassment by any members of the Williams College community.

    You may not use computing resources to violate the College’s standards of conduct. You may not distribute electronic chain letters or spam. These are not only annoying, but can also severely disrupt computing and network performance.

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  • Sexual Harassment Policy

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: September 30, 2015

    Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

    3. such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s performance by creating an intimidating or hostile educational or working environment.

    The term sexual harassment covers a broad range of behavior. Examples of the forms it can take include sexually offensive remarks or conduct; repeated or persistent remarks, jokes, or other actions that are demeaning to one’s sex or sexual orientation; unwanted physical contact; requests or demands for sexual favors accompanied by implicitly or explicitly promised rewards or threatened punishment; attempted or completed physical sexual assault. Behavior that constitutes sexual harassment is actionable under the College’s discrimination grievance procedures.

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  • Code of Conduct

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Tolerance, Respect, and Civility
    Last updated: September 30, 2015

    Accepting membership in this community entails an obligation to behave with courtesy to others whose beliefs and behavior differ from one’s own; all members and guests of this community must be free of disturbance or harassment, including racial and sexual harassment.

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Green Light Policies
  • Code of Conduct

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
    Last updated: September 30, 2015

    Williams College…is committed to being a community in which all ranges of opinion and belief can be expressed and debated, and within which all patterns of behavior permitted by the public law and College regulations can take place.

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  • ‘Disinvitations’ for College Speakers are on the Rise — Here’s a List of People Turned Away this Year

    July 29, 2016

    By Abby Jackson at Business Insider Student activism has long been ingrained in the culture of college campuses, but protests about perceived discrimination over the past year have been especially tense… Read more here.

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  • Jefferson Muzzles go to 50 Colleges and Universities

    April 20, 2016

    By Eugene Volokh at The Washington Post The Thomas Jefferson Center (with which I’m involved as a member of the board of trustees) has just released its yearlyJefferson Muzzles, so I thought I’d pass along the center’s explanation of who the “winners” are this year. Note that the Ccnter supports academic freedom and free speech broadly, and not just those aspects that are legally protected by the First Amendment; so you’ll see many private institutions mentioned here, even though the First Amendment as such does not restrict private entities, as well as the public institutions to which the First Amendment applies… Read […]

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  • I Tried to Confront Racism Head-on. People Called me a Sellout.

    April 14, 2016

    By Zach Wood at The Washington Post Zach Wood, a student at Williams College, has felt backlash as one of the members of a student group seeking to encourage debate by inviting speakers with provocative views to campus… Read more here.

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  • A Williams College Student is Fighting the Hyper-Sensitive Campus Culture

    March 28, 2016

    By Olivia Vanni at BostInno In September, Greg Lukianoff – president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education –  and Jonathan Haidt – a social psychologist and professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business – wrote a piece for The Atlantic called “The Coddling of the American Mind.” It criticized colleges for fostering climates of hyper-political correctness. The article tried to trace back how universities have become hotbeds of trigger warnings and accusations of microaggressions, while citing several instances at different Massachusetts schools they feel exemplify oversensitivity on campuses… Read more here.

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  • Should Professors Be Fired for Damaging a College’s Reputation?

    February 25, 2016

    By Will Creeley at The Atlantic This January, two students at Mount St. Mary’s University reported in the campus newspaper, The Mountain Echo, that their college president planned to dismiss about two dozen students in September in an effort to improve the school’s retention rate. In a now-infamous conversation with a small group of faculty and administrators, the president, Simon Newman, explained that professors shouldn’t feel so sentimental about holding on to students who are unlikely to succeed. “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t,” The Mountain Echo quoted Newman […]

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  • Williams Blocks a Speaker

    February 22, 2016

    By Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed In October, a Williams College student group that had invited to campus Suzanne Venker, known for her antifeminist views, rescinded the invitation, amid much criticism that it had been extended in the first place. At the time, Williams administrators took pains to note that students made the decision and the college had not blocked her from appearing. Read more here.

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  • Liberal Student Invites Conservative Speaker to Campus, College President Overrules Him

    February 22, 2016

    By Robby Soave at Reason Online  Williams College—a private, liberal arts college in Massachusetts—overrode  a student group’s decision to bring a controversial conservative speaker, John Derbyshire, to campus. Williams President Adam Falk made the contemptible move to violate his institution’s commitment to free speech because “[Derbyshire’s] expressions clearly constitute hate speech, and we will not promote such speech on this campus or in our community.” Read more here.

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  • John Derbyshire Gets BANNED From Williams College, Told His Opinions Are ‘Hate Speech’

    February 20, 2016

    By Blake Neff at The Daily Caller The president of Williams College has unceremoniously banned conservative writer John Derbyshire from speaking on campus, saying the writer’s views constitute hate speech and simply will not be allowed. Read more here.

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  • Williams College Cancels a Speaker Who Was Invited to Bring in Provocative Opinions

    February 20, 2016

    By Susan Svrluga at The Washington Post Williams College’s president took “the extraordinary step” this week of canceling the speech of an author who had been invited to bring provocative ideas to campus, saying his ideas cross the line into hate speech. Read more here.

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  • Williams College Cancels Speaking Gig by Polarizing Writer

    February 19, 2016

    By Collin Binkley at NewsTimes BOSTON (AP) — The president of Williams College has canceled a speaking event by a contentious writer who had been invited to campus by students. Read more here.

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  • Paleoconservative Accused of ‘Hate Speech’ Disinvited to Speak at Williams College

    February 18, 2016

    By Jennifer Kabbany at The College Fix Williams College on Thursday disinvited controversial commentator John Derbyshire from speaking there, marking the second time in five months an invitation to a contested guest speaker has been revoked at the elite New England school. Read more here.

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  • It’s Free Speech Week, and Why Some Colleges Hate It

    October 29, 2015

    By Hoppy Kercheval at WV MetroNews This is Free Speech Week, a time to, according to organizers,“raise public awareness of the importance of free speech in our democracy and to celebrate that freedom.” College campuses are perfect forums to exercise free speech, to stretch the limits with contrasting, provocative and even revolutionary ideas, allowing them to rise or fall based on their merits. Unfortunately, too many colleges and universities are headed in just the opposite direction. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports at least 240 instances within the last decade where students and/or faculty made concerted efforts […]

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  • ‘Uncomfortable Learning’ – How 3 Students Changed Their Elite College for the Better

    September 5, 2014

    By Jennifer Kabbany at The College Fix WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – Decades ago, Williams College had a reputation as a preppy, country clubish university, and it was in the midst of this atmosphere that a famed professor at the New England campus, Robert Gaudino, exposed students to the so-called real world. He’d ship them off – as close as America’s inner cities to as far away as Calcutta – to spend some time getting their hands dirty, so to speak; a process he called “Uncomfortable Learning.” “He would just put them on a plane and give them a much more viable […]

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  • Williams College’s Zach Wood Won’t Back Down on Free Speech (VIDEO)

    April 15, 2016

    In February, Williams College President Adam Falk unilaterally disinvited controversial writer John Derbyshire from the school’s student-run “Uncomfortable Learning” speaker series. The reason, according to President Falk, was that Derbyshire’s views—which have been called racist and sexist—made people too uncomfortable. In short, Adam Falk missed the point. Uncomfortable Learning’s president, Williams sophomore Zach Wood, wrote an op-ed for FIRE criticizing what was then the second such disinvitation in as many semesters. Wood recently sat down with FIRE to talk about the importance of combating bad ideas with good ones, and how he experienced backlash for encouraging that difficult-but-necessary dialogue. “There […]

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  • Williams College’s Zachary R. Wood: ‘Racism Is a Pathetic Excuse for Disinviting a Speaker from Campus’  

    February 22, 2016

    Editor’s Note: In the wake of Williams College President Adam Falk’s decision to forbid writer John Derbyshire from coming to campus at the invitation of the student-run “Uncomfortable Learning” speaker series, FIRE reached out to the program’s president, sophomore Zachary R. Wood, and invited him to share his thoughts with readers of The Torch. In my time at Williams, President Falk has been an analytic and deliberative leader. However, I cannot help but think that Falk’s decision to cancel John Derbyshire’s speech at Williams not only does a disservice to the intellectual character of our institution, but is antithetical to […]

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  • The Condescending Paternalism of Williams President Adam Falk

    February 19, 2016

    As FIRE co-founder Alan Charles Kors has said, “You cannot say to people, you’re too weak to live with freedom. Only that group is strong enough to live with freedom.” But that’s exactly what Adam Falk, the patronizing president of Williams College, has said to the college’s student body. Yesterday, Falk unilaterally canceled a speech by John Derbyshire, who was invited as part of the student-run “Uncomfortable Learning” speaker series. While Falk claims to “respect” students’ desire to explore ideas, he believes that sometimes “administrators” (i.e., him) must “step in and make decisions that are in the best interest of […]

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  • Williams College Bars ‘Uncomfortable Learning’ Speaker from Campus, Declares ‘Hate Speech’ Too Uncomfortable

    February 18, 2016

    Williams College has disinvited a second speaker from its student-run “Uncomfortable Learning” speaker series, a program specifically developed to bring controversial viewpoints to campus. Unlike the first disinvitation, which came at the behest of the speaker series’ student organizers, this order came directly from the college president. Williams President Adam Falk said in a statement to the university community this morning that he was canceling next Monday’s speech by writer John Derbyshire, whose views have previously been called racist and sexist. To the Williams Community, Today I am taking the extraordinary step of canceling a speech by John Derbyshire, who […]

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  • Speaker Disinvited from ‘Uncomfortable Learning’ Series for Making Students Uncomfortable

    October 22, 2015

    Students at Williams College in Massachusetts disinvited self-described “cultural critic” Suzanne Venker, author of The War on Men and The Flip Side of Feminism, from the “Uncomfortable Learning” speaker series after other students protested her scheduled talk on campus. According to Inside Higher Ed, the Uncomfortable Learning series is run by Williams students and funded by alumni. The college itself was not involved in the disinvitation. Zach Wood, one of the students in charge of running the series, told Inside Higher Ed that while he personally wishes Venker could have spoken, security concerns brought on by the hostile response to […]

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  • The State of Free Speech on Campus: Williams College

    December 20, 2012

    This winter, FIRE will be presenting a blog series on the state of free speech at ten of America’s top liberal arts colleges. First up: Williams College in Massachusetts. Williams fares quite well in comparison to many of its counterparts when it comes to protecting free speech on campus, but there is still room for improvement. Overall, FIRE gives Williams a “yellow light” rating for its speech codes because of several policies that could too easily be abused to punish protected speech. Although Williams is a private institution (as are all of the colleges in this series), and thus not […]

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  • The Censors’ Favorite Team

    February 4, 2005

    Tens of millions of people across America will watch the Philadelphia Eagles take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX this Sunday night. In a gesture of magnanimity before the big game, those of us at FIRE’s headquarters here in Philadelphia would like to tip our hat to all the New England college administrators we’ve dealt with throughout the years. Not far from New England’s home of Foxboro Stadium near Boston lies Harvard University, home of the Crimson, censorship of business students, and a whole host of due process concerns. Meanwhile, Patriot-supporting administrators at nearby Tufts University in Medford have […]

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  • FIRE’s Letter to Williams’ College

    December 15, 2000

    Morton Owen Schapiro President Williams College P.O. Box 687 Williamstown MA 01267 RE: Williams College Non-Discrimination Policy Dear Dr. Schapiro: As you can see from our Directors and Board of Advisors, FIRE unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of liberty, due process, legal equality, academic freedom, and—in the matter of a compulsory administrative order from Williams College Activities Coordinator Richard C. Kelley—voluntary association, freedom of speech, and religious liberty on America’s college campuses. Our webpage, www.thefire.org, will give you a fuller sense of our identity and […]

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